Snows of Kilimanjaro
It is safe to say that life is never as easy as many people would like it to be; and to make it through life, one must learn how to deal with the positives and negatives of life. There are few people that actually like dealing with anything negative, and even few that are able to remain optimistic in the face of adversity and tragedy. However, there are some people that usually always seem to find peace and optimism in given situations. Unfortunately, this type of attitude can sometimes make a situation more difficult to deal with than if the person were to put some motivation behind their actions instead of complacency with whatever the end result is. In the story The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway, we see how Hemingway uses this relationship to portray an even bigger theme that is: the brighter side of suffering. We can see this idea by the way Hemingway describes the actions of Harry and Helen during Harry’s sickness, and how he describes their actions as Harry come closer and closer to death.
Throughout The Snows of Kilimanjaro, we are presented with the characters of Harry and Helen. These two are in a relationship yet don’t always seem to be a legitimate match for each other. One major cause of this is because, as portrayed in his suffering, Helen seems to be someone whom is the worrier while Harry seems to have more complacency about the situation. We get some insight to this by many of their dialogues together and their past. “‘… I love you really, you know I love you. I’ve never loved any one else the way I love you.’ He slipped into the familiar lie he made his bread and butter by’” (Hemingway p. 1025). “After he no longer meant what he said, his lies were more successful with women that when he had told them the truth…. He had had his life and it was over and then he went on living it again with different…” (Hemingway p. 1026). “It wasn’t this woman’s fault. If it had not been she it would have been another. If he lived by a lie he should try to die by it” (Hemingway p. 1026). “He had traded it for security, for comfort too, there was no denying that, and for what else? He did not know… (Hemingway p. 1027). These quotes show that even though Harry was not the best person ethically for his reasons for dating, he would always appease his partner to feel good in his minuscule amounts of sufferings of being in relationships he no longer wanted to be in, yet he was complacent with remaining in a relationship with Helen. Versus Helen whom, through the previous tragedies (sufferings) in her life, simply did not want to be alone or bored in the world which made her seek love in someone else (brighter side): “But the lovers bored her. She had been married to a man who never bored her and these people bored her very much… Suddenly, she had been acutely frightened of being alone. But she wanted some one that she respected with her” (Hemingway p. 1027). These portrayals and ideas remain and almost get stronger as Harry’s condition worsens.
The final comparison between Harry and Helen, and how it portrays Hemingway’s idea of the brighter side of suffering, can be seen with how each of the deal with Harry’s final moments. Towards the end there are a few places where it can be argued that Harry actually passed versus what parts were simply dreamlike or after he died. In the parts leading up to his death, we as the readers are presented with a strong sense of suspense as death looms closer and more heavily on Harry It can be said that Harry’s time of actual death occurs when Helen no longer responds to him in their short and last dialogue together: “‘…You’re the most complete man I’ve ever know.’ ‘Christ.’ he said. ‘How little a woman knows. What it that? Your intuition?’” (Hemingway p. 1035). We are ironically given deaths introduction right after Harry says “Christ” and Helen no longer responds to Harry. Throughout his standoff with death however, Harry seems to focus more on the physicality of death rather than the fact that death has come for him, further showing his complacency with what he knows is to come. This is opposed to your average person whom would most likely freak out and be terrified that their life is about to end while also being terrified of death itself, rather than antagonize how it looks and how its breath smells as Harry does. However, we get a sense of peace and relief at the end of the section where it states “And then, while they lifted the cot, suddenly it was all right and the weight went from his chest” (Hemingway p. 1035). After Harry’s encounter with death, a new paragraph seemingly set apart from the previous section begins that seems hopeful. In this section, one could easily forget that it’s very possible that Harry just died in the previous section because this section is so optimistic and through the perspective of Harry. This is true even until the end when Hemingway subtly, clearly, and pleasantly reminds the readers that Harry has passed: “…all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going” (Hemingway p. 1038). This imagery has a sort of religious tone to it; more specifically it seems as Harry is being taken to Heaven at this point, making it a happy ending for him. Helen on the other hand is not as lucky and does not have such a happy ending. She is understandably hysterical because she has lost another important person in her life: “Then she said, ‘Harry, Harry!’ Then her voice rising, “Harry! Please, Oh Harry!’” (Hemingway p. 1037). She has a good reason to react in such a way, but it is a reaction regardless when she possibly could have been happy his suffering has ended.
Ultimately, through the use of these two characters and their interactions with one another, Hemingway effectively presents how there can always be a brighter side of suffering. While Harry has a more complacent attitude about his likely upcoming death throughout the story, Helen does not. We can see this through how they act as Harry’s infection spreads and how they act during Harry’s final moments and final moment. And even though this idea is not always directly stated, it holds when we pay attention to how the story progresses. This in turn keeps up with how Hemingway says he tries to write: “‘I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg… There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows’” (Hemingway p. 1019).